Chinese plane spots object in Indian Ocean

By Rob Griffith and Scott McDonald The Associated Press Published Mar 24, 2014 at 12:01AM

PERTH, Australia — A Chinese plane crew spotted a white, square-shaped object in an area identified by satellite imagery as containing possible debris from the missing Malaysian airliner, China’s media said early today, while the United States prepared to move a specialized device that can locate black boxes into the region.

The crew aboard an IL-76 plane sighted the object in the southern Indian Ocean search area today and reported the coordinates to the Australian command center, which is coordinating the multinational search, as well as the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon, which is en route to the area, Xinhua News Agency reported.

No further details were immediately given. Satellite images from Australia and China had earlier identified possible debris in the area that may be linked to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

The U.S. Pacific command said it was sending a black box locator in case a debris field is located. The Towed Pinger Locator, which is pulled behind a vessel at slow speeds, has highly sensitive listening capability so that if the wreck site is located, it can hear the black box pinger down to a depth of about 20,000 feet, Cmdr. Chris Budde, a U.S. Seventh Fleet operations officer, said in a statement.

“This movement is simply a prudent effort to preposition equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area so that if debris is found we will be able to respond as quickly as possible since the battery life of the black box’s pinger is limited,” Budde said.

There was no sign the move was because of any break in the mystery of the plane that went missing with 239 people on board, but rather as a preparation.

The Chinese plane was one of two Ilyushins that joined the search today from Perth, increasing the number of aircraft to 10 from eight a day earlier.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s rescue coordination center said the weather in the area, about 1,550 miles southwest of Perth, was expected to deteriorate with rain likely.

Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said “nothing of note” was found Sunday, which he described as a “fruitless day.”

“It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ll stick at it,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio before the first aircraft left Perth at dawn. “We’re just, I guess, clutching at whatever little piece of information comes along to try and find a place where we might be able to concentrate the efforts.”

A cyclone bearing down on the Australian northwest coast “could stir up less favorable weather,” he said.

Flight 370 disappeared while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, setting off a multinational search that has turned up no confirmed pieces and nothing conclusive on what happened to the jet.